West Baden Springs’ postal facility in Indianapolis was recently cited for four repeated violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
OSHA opened an investigation at the facility on June 3, 2016, after receiving a complaint of alleged safety concerns. OSHA found that the facility had failed to protect employees from the dangers of exposure to asbestos, and proposed $49,720 in penalties.
Indianapolis Postal Facility Fails to Protect Workers from Asbestos Exposure
OHSA states that until the early 1980s, asbestos, which is a known carcinogen, was commonly used in building materials like floor tiles. In workplaces that may contain these materials, employers are responsible for training workers on how to protect themselves when a scratched tile or spill creates a situation where the asbestos fibers may be released.
Apparently, the USPS had not taken the proper precautions at their West Baden Springs facility. Investigators found that they had failed to promptly clean up spills and releases of presumed asbestos-containing material, had failed to label those areas that had materials with asbestos, and failed to train employees in safety protocols when working around broken mastic and tile that contained asbestos.
As a result, OSHA cited the facility for four repeated violations.
Asbestos a Risky Building Material Linked to Cancer
Asbestos was used originally because it is a strong fiber and can resist heat and corrosion. Its fire-retardant properties made it popular in the automotive and construction industries. It can still be found today in materials installed before 1981, including thermal system insulation, roofing, vinyl floor tiles, ceiling tiles, industrial pipe wrapping, automobile brake linings and clutch pads, cement, and spray-on coatings.
Though there were reports that asbestos could damage the lungs as early as the 1800s, and medical evidence in the 1930s linked it to mesothelioma, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the government passed legislation to limit exposure to the dangerous material. Though it has not yet been banned in the U.S., its use has declined considerably, and the last asbestos mine closed in 2002.
OSHA states that any work activity that disturbs asbestos-containing materials can release asbestos fibers, and it’s these fibers that can get into the lungs and cause cancer. The symptoms, however, and the cancer itself may not develop for years after exposure.
Employers Responsible for Protecting Employees from Asbestos Exposure
Employees may be exposed to asbestos when renovating or demolishing buildings, or when coming into contact with deteriorating asbestos-containing materials. OSHA requires employers to take certain steps to protect employees from this type of exposure.
OSHA has established a permissible exposure limit (PEL), for example, of 0.1 asbestos fiber per cubic centimeter of air over a period of 8 hours, or 1.0 asbestos fibers per cubic centimeter over a 30-minute period. Employers have to be sure that workers are not exposed to more than this amount.
In addition, employers are responsible for determining where asbestos may be present in their workplaces, and monitoring those areas to make sure exposure levels are safe. In places where exposure may go above the PEL, employers are to use proper work practices to reduce it, such as providing safety equipment like respiratory protection.
Employers must also provide warning signs in areas that may expose employees to levels higher than the PEL, and must train workers on risks of exposure.
In this case, the postal facility allegedly failed in a number of its responsibilities to employees. They have 15 days from the citation date to pay the fines or contact OSHA to contest the findings.
Exclusively focused on representing plaintiffs, especially in mass tort litigation, Eric Chaffin prides himself on providing unsurpassed professional legal services in pursuit of the specific goals of his clients and their families. Both his work and his cases have been featured in the national press, including on ABC’s Good Morning America.